Coping with COVID-19: N.O. Business Leaders Share Their Insights

Safety During Covid 19 Pandemic

NEW ORLEANS – We asked more than 500 local business leaders how they are dealing with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of their insights and observations:

How are you coping with the coronavirus crisis?

Leah Oby, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra: We have made the decision to cancel the remainder of the 2019-2020 season for the health and safety of our entire community, artists, employees and audiences. We are making the commitment to pay our musicians and staff during this closure and are making plans and efforts to resume our regular programming, performances and events with the start of the 2020-2021 season in September.

Robert Stevens, The Stevens Realty Group: As a Catholic we are in the Lenten season, a time of abstinence, sacrifice and soulful reflection. The mandates of social distancing and business closures have become a prayerful addition during these 40-plus days of Lent. Accepting this as beyond our control should relieve some anxiety. In south Louisiana we have learned to “just deal with it,” and all the while helping others as we may.

Lana Joseph-Ford, High Level Speech and Hearing Center: Last Friday, we decided to close our clinic to in-person visits, allowed our staff to work remotely, and we launched a brand new telehealth model in just 5 days.

Patrick Schoen, Jacob Schoen & Son: We remain open and ready to serve our community. In these uncertain times, we want to assure everyone that we are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, guests and the families we are privileged to serve. We have updated our operations and website to allow families to make arrangements in person or by phone.

Patrick Mullin, Mullin: We’re doing just fine – we’ve implemented suggested safety and sanitation protocols and are busy trying to keep the world beautiful.

Matthew Oertling, HAMCO: We understand that New Orleans is a community, and that we need to be available to our friends, neighbors, and clients in these uncertain times. Revenue has definitely seen a sharp decline. Most of our customers are in the restaurant and gaming industry, so the shutdown of the economy has hit them all very hard. However, we remain positive, and open for business, ready to serve the clients who need our help.

Shelby Sanderford of DOCPACE: COVID-19 has been a rollercoaster of emotions, and it is so alarming to see that New Orleans is one of the “hot spots” for the virus nationally. Being a health-tech company during the pandemic is an interesting place to be. We are actively trying to get our product into the hands of doctors and hospitals for free in order to enable them to directly communicate with their patients. Our technology has been updated to include a pathway for hospitals to send COVID-19 screeners to their patients via text.

Did your business continuity plan work or were there surprises?

Victor F. “Trey” Thahan III, Trahan Architects: Being based in New Orleans, we are prepared for occasional challenges or surprises, which are usually weather related. This pandemic was different, in that it seemed to quickly upend business as usual. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, we started renovating the Superdome and I would drive back and forth every day from Baton Rouge thinking to myself, “How are we going to pull this off?” We endured and then, in fact, thrived in the face of adversity and helped bring the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to where it is today, and are continuing with our ongoing four-year renovation. The Superdome brought this community together in the past – and my hope is that it will bring us all together again soon. 

Nathan Chapman, Firmidable: The biggest surprise was the emotional stress we see with some of our team members, particularly parents. One mom said her little boy was sad because she couldn’t find Bunny Bread for him. We found it at Dorignac’s and sent her a picture of a rows of Bunny Bread that she could go out and get for him. We put one employee in charge of morale.

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines, United Way of Southeast Louisiana: We had to set up a PO Box to redirect our mail while our office is closed, and that was something we hadn’t planned for, so it took a few extra steps to get there.

Patrick Schoen: The change from unlimited guests to 50 to now only 10 has put constraints on how we operate but we have adjusted accordingly. We already had many services and policies in place that we were able to tweak for the benefit of our families. Specifically, the ability to live-stream and record a funeral services from our chapel which we are offering to families at no charge at this time. We are also honoring the pre-arrangements made at other funeral homes and are taking any and all questions people have about how the coronavirus affects funeral services.

Have you found a silver lining?

Robert Stevens: With burdensome scheduling normally encumbering us, and along with demands to be immediate in response because of technology, I find it amazing how neighborhoods seem changed with bustling activity. It hearkens back to a period when only one bread winner was needed and you knew all your neighbors within a block or two. Can we change our lives to become even a little simpler?

Shelby Sanderford: The major silver lining for us is that we have a technology that may actually be able to help both doctors and patients get through this scary and uncertain time. Many of us have been grasping for ways to help other New Orleanians in need – from donating to local food banks, to grocery shopping for our elderly friends and neighbors, to simply practicing social distancing. We hope that DOCPACE’s technology will be able to alleviate some of the stress that everyone is feeling right now in our community.

Lana Joseph-Ford: Yes, We have been able to keep all of our employees employed. And we’ve developed a new cost effective model that could lead to our company’s global expansion. Additionally we’ve established new partnerships with Google and Verizon.

Charon Flowers Maple, BypassLines: We have found that restaurants really could use our services at this time when pickup/delivery are the only options for restaurants. We have seen restaurants backed up because they print orders and having customers sign receipts when this could all be accomplished in the app, all in a touch-less manner. We have onboarded a couple restaurants to help them organize take out orders and market their restaurants.

Patrick Mullin: Yes, of course. One of the most obvious is the strength and dedication of the members of our team – we’ve continued to be productive working from home, and many of them are coming in every day, business as usual, to both produce and manage our field operations.

Trey Trahan: I have! As a firm, we have always believed that architecture is beyond buildings; it’s about arriving at a place … that architecture can result in and create an attitude of kindness, and that our convictions are a result of our life experiences. We care deeply about the basic aspects of humanity, and with that said, this health and economic crisis has made us all come back to that place of kindness as a way of grounding and stabilizing ourselves.

Leah Oby: One silver lining that we’ve found is the continued support and understanding of our patrons and audience members. All have been willing to contribute financially (if they can) by agreeing to transfer their concert tickets from our 2019-2020 concert season to our upcoming 30th anniversary season.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

Nathan Chapman: We are planning a virtual happy hour where everyone makes their favorite cocktail of choice. Don’t have to worry about drinking and driving for this one!

Trey Trahan: Everyone on the team is constantly checking in with one another using online collaboration tools – and that has been easy because we care so much about each other. It’s not just checking in about a project or a deadline, it’s about “How is your mother?,” “Do you have enough supplies?,” and “How can I help you?”  

Any advice for local companies?

Mandy Simpson, Nola Boards: Hard to give advice when you don’t know where you stand yourself, but just to hang in there. Use the down time wisely if you are not able to be open, plan for a very busy fall, and stay positive as much as possible.

Nathan Chapman: Studies show that companies that maintained their marketing programs during the Great Recession grew market share. To the best of your ability, keep calm and carry on, as the British say. But mostly, listen to your employees, listen to your clients, just focus on how you can help them.

Charon Flowers Maple: I would advise restaurants to be nimble and innovative in following the governor’s directive. Although we are used to doing things a certain way we are now challenged to show how nimble, creative and flexible we really are. As a startup we want to help. We have a mobile ordering app for pickup services that we are offering for free for 60 days. I challenge everyone to embrace change and welcome a different way of doing business … just try it out. There’s nothing to lose.

Matthew Oertling: My advice would be to research all of the resources that are going to become available in the near future. Whether that be a line of credit, a bride loan, or assistance from the SBA. It is in the best interest of both local and national governments for everyone to weather this storm.

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines: Check in on your people, allow an adjustment period as everyone gets used to remote technology, meet regularly, over-communicate, and send regular reminders to pause, reflect and care for the whole person

Lana Joseph-Ford: Yes, adapt or die!

Categories: Alerts, COVID-19, Today’s Business News